Thursday, 23 May 2013

Not really a basis for long term decisions

Everybody within the bubble cheers! Everyone outside the bubble groans, “not another one “they say.

The Westminster bubble has excreted yet another bit of useless drivel in the guise of research called “Envisioning the Library of the Future” .

I wrote about some of the  issues when it was going on here:

Is this really the level of research that we get from government? You would imagine that having librarians involved, people who are supposed to understand data it would be proper robust bit of research like you'd get from a scientific paper. The outsourced part of the study alone cost somewhere between 65k and 85K you can see the tender document here.
And yet they spoke to less people that regularly use my local library which is tiny. The online thing nobody knew about (I told my local council to stick the link on their website), they told the "library relationship managers" and a few others outside of the sector but nobody else knew about it. There is a spread sheet with the email address of most of the libraries in the country on the DCMS website, have they never heard of email merge or even mail merge to let people know? I cannot find the direct link anymore but there’s a version online here.
I would imagine with all the staffing time spent on it by the various staff members, the true cost of this drivel was probably nearer a quarter of a million pounds, yet it has no hard data, offers no solutions to the problems and draws no conclusions on a proper way forward.
Is this all the upper echelons of library management does churn out one of these every couple of years at great cost but with no benefit?
The giant elephant in the room of community libraries not saving money they seem to be ignoring, we all know that sacking low paid library managers/assistants and replacing them with self-service and dozens of volunteers doesn't save any money yet nobody is properly researching this?
No wonder the country is in a mess, we need better policy based on real research not this sort of drivel.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Looking a Trojan horse in the mouth

I emailed Flick Rea about my concerns with the LGA claiming libraries are non-statutory. The director of communications from the LGA responded on her behalf. The main bit of text that I think is wrong is that the LGA put out was:

" In order to achieve that cut it would have to reduce spending on a broad combination of non-statutory services which might include children's centres, museums, libraries and sports centres, as well as reduce road maintenance budgets, increase bus fares and switch off streetlights between midnight and dawn"

Any fair reading of the above to a person who wasn’t aware of the facts would lead that person to believe that libraries are non-statutory. The response from David Holdstock from the LGA is below and in full:

Thank you for your email following on from the LGA’s press release issued on 9 May titled ‘Government cuts risk “failing communities”.

Councillor Rea has asked me to reply on behalf of the LGA.
I would like to clarify that the LGA fully understands that the 1964 Act confers a statutory duty on councils to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service, and it is regrettable that the language used in our press release was open to misinterpretation on this point. The sentiment we were trying to get across is that individual libraries in-and-of-themselves can be closed without the associated council breaching it statutory duty, as found by recent judicial reviews into the issue of library closures.  Councils do not take such difficult decisions lightly and the purpose of our media campaign is to ensure valued local services are maintained.

Local government, which is seeing its funding from central government cut by £10 billion in real terms across the current spending period (2011/12 to 2014/15), is facing a rapidly growing financial black hole, brought about by a combination of cuts and the escalating cost of delivering adult social care services. We have undertaken some detailed work which shows that by 2019/20, unless there is major reform of local government finance, the deficit will be £16.5 billion. It is because of this dire financial situation we are warning that, if nothing changes, despite their best efforts many councils may have little alternative than to close some libraries to make savings.
This is why the LGA is lobbying for public sector reforms, such as Community Budgets and greater devolution of funding, which will give councils the levers they need to protect the services that matter the most to local people.
I hope that you will support our aims of ensuring councils are able to continue to deliver important services for local people.

I have given my views and asked for a correction but since the BBC, national press and others have already in their ignorance of the museums and libraries act have ran the story and referred to library services as non-statutory a correction will make little difference. I do hope however that the LGA are more careful in their phrasing and stop referring to library services as non-statutory in future.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

If it were a statutory instrument, it would have to go before the House

The Local Government association is a lobbying organisation that relies on subscriptions from its members (local government), grants from central government (again our money) and generates income from selling its services (to local government again) in the form of courses and conferences etc. It relies totally on taxpayers money to exist. In simple terms, we as taxpayers are paying for one part of government to lobby another. Most people will only hear the LGA when there's a negative story about local government, they will trot out a spokesman to speak to the media to refute any of the negative claims and blame it on the national government, say there is a lack of government funding and its never the councils fault. They are part of that undemocratic pool of detritus in the Westminster bubble that is comprised of think tanks, quangos and other bodies that leech money away from the taxpayer but are unaccountable to them.

During the current economic downturn, the LGA have made it clear the Libraries will be at the forefront of the cuts. They keep referring to them as non-statutory and that they will have to be cut hard to save the other real statutory services. It seems not just the minister is happy to ignore the 1964 museums and libraries act,  the LGA and the media seem happy to ignore that they are statutory.

It is clearly a ploy on their part to use libraries as a battering ram to try and secure a better funding deal during the next spending review. The fact that we are paying for a un-elected, taxpayer funded body (I didn't vote for anyone on the LGA) to attack libraries and lie to the media saying they are non-statutory to try and get a better deal for councils is offensive. Perhaps if the LGA spent less time defending incompetent local government, attacking national government and used their taxpayer funded resources  knocking heads together between councils to get them to work together better I wouldn't be writing this. Sadly they aren't, they are doing nothing to actually help libraries and are using them to further their own agenda.

I'm going to remind both my county and district council that in these tough financial times the LGA subs are non-statutory and perhaps they shouldn't pay them, its either adult social care or the LGA subscriptions as far as I'm concerned. Other big city councils have pulled out of the LGA and are now doing their own thing so obviously some councils are seeing sense.

They spend millions of our money every year lobbying, perhaps the LGA subscriptions from councils should be cut by by 75% maybe that will prompt them into action.

Stop wasting our money attacking libraries, start working to try and save them. My own local authority was paying a 68k subscription to the LGA in 2011, they probably spend lots more on the courses and seminars they put on. That's subscription cost alone is probably enough to fully restore the hours of the low paid library managers and assistants in about 7 of the cut libraries.

Here is the annual expenditure for the LGA for the last few years:

This remember is money spent by a lobbying organisation with one part of government lobbying another. Yes they have councillors in the LGA but they are not directly elected by us. Its time the LGA and other organisations in receipt of taxpayers cash start actually batting for the taxpayer in these difficult times rather than defending the bleeding stump cuts and mediocrity that passes for libraries policy we get in local government.

What would you cut? LGA Subs or libraries, how many libraries could be saved by nearly 28 million pounds?

Friday, 3 May 2013

This is a democracy, and the people don't like it.

The 2013 Oxfordshire County Council election results were counted today. Voter turnout was 32% just under a third of the electorate, two thirds, despite the lovely weather didn't bother to vote. The Conservatives were one seat short of keeping control of the council. Thankfully UKIP didn't get any divisions but the Labour party, Lib Dems and Greens didn't really make any significant gains either, the Tories are lucky the Labour party have such a poor leader and have no alternatives to current policies. There was however four independent candidates that won which can only be a good thing for us people who vote on issues rather than for parties.

The Conservative group will meet tomorrow to decide on a way forward and to try and understand where they went wrong. My view is they didn't actually step up and speak for the people that voted for them for the past elections, they have been bounced into following the party line and this has damaged their vote. 

On the libraries issue, which I'm obviously going to write about, the current policy was decided without consulting the Tory group, the civil servants claim to have had a few meetings about using volunteers but there isn't a shred of documentation to show they actually had a single thing to do with this policy and yet supported it, despite the fact civil servants are supposed to look at evidence then make recommendations on policy ideas that come forward. The scrutiny committee are supposed to be a robust challenge to cabinet yet they waved it through on party lines.

The Tory group had no say in it because it came down from the Prime Minister in a most undemocratic fashion and it was announced to the media before they had a say as Cllr Peter Handley said in the local paper last year: "not as with the library fiasco where one person was making the decisions, talking to the press and then expecting the group to agree with what had been announced" “This has happened several times over recent years.” 

Very few councillors spoke out about the library decision, the current leader Ian Hudspeth spoke to cabinet and put his views and was concerned about the sustainability of volunteers, the methodology used and was of the view that the savings could be made elsewhere

The councillors that speak out against the views of their own parties are the ones who we should encourage, those that sit and nod along like the churchhill dog to whatever bum plasma that comes down from Cameron need to step up and represent the views of the electorate and have some independence of mind.

In a healthy democracy we need councillors with a backbone who will be open and have their own views in public, this is how it is supposed to work, the party whip has no place in local government in my view, it damages proper policy formulation when the central office dictate policy from Number 10. 

Since the scheme for the libraries was passed by cabinet, the back office costs of the library service has gone up by 1.3 million, remember the supposed savings by slashing 21 libraries is only 313k. I got the break down from OCC yesterday:

The cultural services recharge has dropped by 56% but most of the other recharges have gone up, some massively. OCC put a bit of an explanation with the FOI which I didn't request but I think it amounts to they haven't made the savings in these areas yet, well they have a lot of work to turn that ship around I think. They went straight to the front line in a bleeding stump attack on libraries in my view and the above unjustified increases above should be where the 313k saving are made. The libraries that are being cut should be re-designated as statutory because of the flawed analysis, the undemocratic and opaque nature of the decision making (who decided where the cut off point for statutory/non-statutory should be and based on what??)  OCC cannot answer any of these questions on the volunteers policy despite repeated attempts to get answers, the obvious answer is because they weren't made in the proper way with the decisions made behind closed doors without minutes being taken and the decisions weren't tested against what available evidence there is.

I hope the Tories don't think a drift to the right is the answer, UKIP didn't nobble the vote for the Tories, Cameron did, he had no place interfering in local matters, despite his supposed support for localism. I hope they realize that if they want to engage the 70% they need to be open, transparent, work properly with the civil servants and debate these things robustly in the group and in public so the correct decisions are arrived at that deliver good public services. Otherwise we end up with bad decision making, sham consultations and no scrutiny which means policy is a mess and everyone sees it and it damages peoples belief in the political process so they don't bother to vote. If they don't sort it out, the voter turnout will continue to decline and independents won't be put off running because of the power of the party machines and the parties will become slowly extinct.

P.S and not specifically on Libraries, if the parties spend the next four years with tribal, ideological bickering and cock jousting (sadly it seems to be a male politicians issue) I will be very cross. You are supposed to work together in the public good not mud slinging trying to get one over on the other side, people before party otherwise there will be no parties if you keep it up!!!

The FOI on the ever increasing service support/other expenditure costs:

The FOI response showing not notes, emails, minutes or any other documents exists showing the formulation of the volunteers policy:

I have questioned this above response as it worrying if meetings are taking place and nothing is written down, there are more important things councils deal with than libraries and if other policy formulation decisions are taken without any documentation it could be a series matter.